The large German industrial consortia will now have to fight effectively against child labor and environmental destruction and demand that their suppliers make this commitment. An initiative that appears in the so-called Supply Chain Law, approved this Friday by the Bundestag, the federal Parliament, and that demands from the large German groups that they assume control of the origin of the materials and parts they need for their industrial production in third countries.
Large German companies will be forced to act against suppliers that violate human rights or the environment. Failure to do so can be punished with fines of up to 2% of their annual turnover. Initially, the law will be applied from 2023 to consortia with more than 3,000 workers in Germany, a total of 925 companies. Starting in 2024, it will be expanded to firms with more than a thousand employees in their workforce, some 4,800 companies based in this country.
This law was approved by a large majority in the Bundestag. In a roll call vote, 412 deputies gave their approval, while another 159 spoke out against it and 59 abstained. The legislative proposal went ahead with the votes of the Christian Democrats (CDU), Bavarian Social Christians (CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) of the great coalition led by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, although the Greens also supported the initiative.
The representatives of the Liberal Party (FDP) and the ultranationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) voted against it. The deputies of the Left abstained. In the debate prior to the vote, the German Labor Minister, the Social Democrat Hubertus Heil, stressed that politicians are obliged to act against child labor. “Children should go to school and not to the mine,” said the minister, who stressed that the new law sets clear standards for large companies.
Also the federal Minister of Development, the Christian Socialist Gerd Müller, celebrated the approval of the controversial law, which went ahead – he said – “despite strong pressure from some ‘lobbies’”. To satisfy the business community, the CDU / CSU conservatives imposed that the firms were not subjected to an additional civil liability, so that the consortia have a certain legal and planning security. In turn, AfD radicals and eurosceptics criticized the bill’s passage because it benefits foreign competitors of German companies.
A minimal solution
For Oxfam, an international association of humanitarian NGOs, the law is a minimal solution when it comes to tackling the problem of child exploitation. “It is a success because Human Rights are protected by law for the first time in the economy,” said Franziska Humbert, an expert on DDUU at Oxfam, who stressed, however, that the law also has large gaps.
“For example, it does not include a right to compensation so that the workers of the large banana, vineyard or tea plantations can claim the damages suffered before German courts against the large supermarket chains,” said Humbert. In addition, the law establishes that the large German consortia should only worry about controlling their direct suppliers, who in the chain are also based in this country and not where child exploitation is the daily bread, something that the expert described of “inconsequential.”